Dreams, Don't Die
I waited outside the school for Zoey as she gathered her books and her backpack from her locker. Students aren’t supposed to be inside the school after club activities ends at 5:00 PM. I’ve been waiting a while though, since the ‘Dead Writers’ Society’ meeting had ended. I wonder what she’s up to.
“Yo, Tai!” a voice called out from behind me.
I turned around to see who it may have come from. Kai, my best friend. He was jogging towards me. He stopped and rested his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath as if he had been running for a while…except there’s not even a drop of sweat on him.
“Well well, look what the cat dragged in,” I greeted with flat sarcasm and annoyance. “Thanks for ditching me back at that meeting. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“Oh yeah. Sorry about that. I…just remembered that I had to run the school track, you know, to stay in tip top shape,” Kai said between as he tried to catch his fake breaths.
“That must have been some workout. So much that you ran until there were not a trace of sweat on you.”
“Well, it’s January…and the cold weather chilled the sweat off me. It’s rocket science, Taiyo!”
“Riiiight.” The only rocket around here is the one where I uppercut you for ditching me!
“In any case,” Kai began, lifting himself from his resting position and beginning to stretch. How long is he going to keep up this fake act?! “How was the meeting? Was it anything that you were expecting it to be?”
My first meeting of the ‘The Dead Writers’ Society’…was nothing at all of what I had expected it to be! Zoey, who said not to be late on that invitation, WAS the one who arrived late. And then there was that weird freshman, Andy, who acted as if he had a role in Naruto. And, I can’t forget that stuffy conversation about Tolkien with Ian. In fact, I think the only relatable person in that club was Sarai, and that’s not saying much what with her fascination with anything macabre. What did I expect from a club named ‘The Dead Writers’ Society’? Wait, that’s a stupid question even for me to ask myself, because even I don’t know! Or didn’t know, or whatever! But, for some reason, I…
“Who knows,” I said to Kai. “You should have been there yourself.”
“Aww c’mon, don’t hold out on me, man.”
“Sorry. You should go to the next meeting.”
“I don’t think that’s a club for me, honestly. Ehehe.”
“Yo, Taiyo,” another voice called out to me.
I turned around to see from whom the voice belonged to. It was Zoey’s!
“Ready to walk home together?”
She’s smiling and posing in a way that is too similar from that one shonen manga about a group of guys and their bizarre adventures!
Swift and stoic, I turned my back to her, faced forward, and spoke flatly, “I’ve never seen this person before in my life. I’m going home.”
I picked up my right foot and began to walk. However, before I could even move, I felt a soft yet sudden pressure on my back, and a gentle grip closing around my waist. She’s…she’s hugging me from behind!
“But you promised we’d walk home together,” she pleaded with innocent eyes and a soft voice.
Is she doing this on purpose, or is this just Zoey being Zoey?!
I turned my head to face Kai in hopes that he will help me out of this situation. A joke, a witty remark, inviting himself, anything! No. Instead, on his face was a smug grin, or a jealous, annoyed grin that was too wide to be friendly. I don’t know; maybe it’s both! If there’s anything I know about Kai it’s, without a doubt, in this moment, he’s thinking, ‘They are going to screw!’
Narrator: Indeed, Kai was thinking, ‘They are going to screw!’
“C’mon, Taiyo!” Zoey cheerfully shouted. “The sun is setting. Let’s make the most of our time.”
Before I had a chance to object, she was already pushing me along to start walking. After some distance, I glanced behind me.
He’s…he’s really doing it! Kai’s standing with bent knees, palms facing the sky, and clenched fingers, as if he’s going WRRRYYYYYYY!
‘Tai, you son of a gun! I will never forgive youuuuu!’ I imagined he whispered to himself…or did I actually hear him say that?
Two minutes had passed since Zoey and I began walking, and we had yet to start talking. For an introvert, two minutes doesn’t seem like a long time. However, for an extravert like her, it must have felt like an eternity.
“You’re not much of a talker, are ya?” she finally asked.
“Not really. I’m not really the type to start a conversation with someone who I don’t know.” I’m not trying to be rude, but it is true.
“Well, I wouldn’t say that we don’t know each other. We’re both in the same business class, and we’re both in the same after school club.”
She has a point. But still, I’ve never spoken to her until today.
Zoey walked in front of me, turned towards me, and grinned excitedly. “So, what’d ya think?” she asked.
“Um, what do I think about what?”
“The ‘Dead Writers’ Society’, silly!”
“Oh. Umm…it’s certainly…a bag of mixed nuts.”
This is about as honest of an opinion I was ever going give while being polite.
Zoey burst out laughing. It was a distinct laugh that’s both annoying yet endearing. “Well there’s not many nuts in this bag! You can say that we’re the smallest nuts compared to the other after school clubs!”
Could you work on your phrasing, please?
“Why is that?” I asked. We arrived at a stop light, waiting to cross the street.
“You mean why there are so few members of the writers’ club?”
“Well, yeah. And why the name ‘Dead Writers’ Society’ while we’re at it?”
“The reason that there are so few members is because I want this to be a club where people who are committed to their passions can come together, be themselves, and work on their passions while getting to know each other. I suppose, that is another reason why I decided for the club to not be advertised across the school.”
“I’ve been wondering about that. I’ve never heard of the club until today.”
“That’s because I don’t want just anybody to join the club. Some people join after school clubs just for the sake of having a club activity for their university application. Typically, those people have no interest in doing activities or getting to know the other members. It’s superficial, and I have no time or patience for such things.”
The light to cross the street turned green, and Zoey and I began to walk side by side. I continued to listen to her.
“And then there are people who ARE passionate about the after school club they joined but aren’t fully committed. Those people…are a joy to have around but it hurts a little to see them drop out because they are unable to actively participate as they most likely would love to. Maybe it’s pretentious of me to say and do this, but I want to spare such people from chasing after a dream that they can’t achieve. They may have their reasons for doing so, but I also don’t want them to have any regrets later on in life.
‘I should have stuck with my passions in high school.’ ‘Why did my life turn out this way?’ ‘I’m not happy where I am in my adult life.’ I don’t want to be the one behind those words, whether myself or from others. I’m the leader; I feel I have the responsibility of leading people to where they need to be or to lead them to what they should do to accomplish their goal. You get what I’m saying? If a person drops out, it’d be my fault…my fault that I didn’t do enough to get them to stay or to continue their dream. I just turned 18 last month. My adulthood is about to begin after graduation. It’s a bit heavy for me to bear such a thing.”
I understand where she’s coming from. But, is it really her responsibility if people decide to drop out from the club? And who’s to say that Sarai, Ian, Andy, or I can’t fully commit? Hearing her say this…makes me feel a bit anxious. I don’t want to let her down. But deep down inside, I…
“Hey, Taiyo,” Zoey spoke. “We’re about to pass a café. Wanna grab a drink?”
Zoey and I were sitting at a small table near a window with the drinks we ordered. I ordered a cappuccino, and Zoey got a hot chocolate. I think her drink choice complements her: festive and full of energy with some kind of richness about her that I can’t quite put my finger on. From listening to her speak earlier, I’m noticing that she has a warm personality. There’s a lot about her that I don’t know, but as far as first interactions go, this isn’t so bad despite this morning’s introduction.
I began to stare out the window, watching the sun slowly sink behind the trees and buildings in the distance, and the birds flying high above the cars on the road. They’re all making their way to their homes for the night. The sunset faintly lingered in the winter sky as nighttime was attempting to surpass it, as if the two were in a race, or maybe one is trying to follow the other.
Inside the small café were the sounds of coffee being made, the small chatters of isolated conversations, and mellow jazz music playing softly on a radio. My mind started to wander: everything in this café, everyone driving their cars, the birds and animals going to their homes…they all have a story.
I glanced towards the counter, where I observed a customer ordering a strawberry scone and a cup of espresso. Huh, an espresso at this time of day. They must have a long night ahead of them or is in need of a wake up. The barista is the same person who served Zoey and me, moving with hurried yet delicate urgency. She didn’t seem unhappy. In fact, I wonder if she enjoys this job. I wonder what their stories are. I may never know, but in a harmless way, it’s fun to think about.
“Gonna leave it up to me to start the conversation again?” Zoey asked, cutting into my creative wonder.
“Oh, sorry.” I took a sip of my cappuccino and finally asked, “So, why is it called ‘Dead Writers’ Society’?”
“Interesting name, huh? Well, part of the reason is that it was Sarai’s idea.”
I knew it. “Sarai’s idea, huh? Who would have guessed? Aha…ha…ha.”
“I will never know her fascination with the macabre. Maybe it’s just a phase. But, the name of club isn’t too different from its original name.”
“This club was already established?”
“Yeah, but it was defunct. Originally it was named after an old movie that’s considered a cult classic of sorts. Sarai hated it because the name only focused on poetry and wanted to be inclusive of writers of various genres.”
Because the word ‘dead’ is already inviting enough, right?
“Sarai and I revived the ‘Dead Writers’ Society’ last year, at the beginning of my junior year. We both were in the same extracurricular creative writing class and were paired to work together on a class assignment that involved research of our school. As we searched through old newsletters and newspaper in the library, we found out about the club’s former existence. We thought it was a great idea to revive the club and to give it new life by changing the name and whatnot, even deciding to include art as of the previous semester.”
A new life with the word ‘dead’ in the name is a bit of an oxymoron.
Zoey continued. “As you could guess, at first it was an active club. But slowly, people began to quit or to join other clubs or had other obligations, or an ulterior motive such as for the sake of university applications. By the end of the junior year, there was only me and Sarai. Ian, although he was a freshman at the time, always hung around, even though he wasn’t allowed to join. In fact, he joined at the beginning of the previous semester.”
What a history this club has experienced in such a short amount of time since its revival. Though, what lead to it becoming defunct in the first place? Maybe I should create an unofficial story about the founders and their adventures and their school days. That aside, there is one lingering question I want to ask: Why did Zoey get into writing?”
The moment I begun to open my mouth to ask was also the moment she shot her question.
“I’ve been doing a lot of talking about me. Tell me, Taiyo. Why did you get into writing?”
I took a small gulp of my now slightly hot cappuccino and proceeded to answer her question. I told her stories of how imaginative my mind has always been during my childhood and even now, how my love for stories and inspiration from anime is what spurred me into writing, and even about my corny fanfics from my middle school days. I told her everything. Though I wouldn’t tell any person I’ve just met about these stories and details, my passion, my story, and my experiences possessed me to. And as I spoke, Zoey was deeply engrossed, intrigued from the first letter until the last period of my story, and even laughed with some of the details I mentioned.
5:30 PM became 5:45 PM, and 5:45 became 6:15 PM. Zoey and I finished our drinks, and I had just finished telling her about passion for writing. There was silence between us again. An inexplicable feeling came over me as my eyes fell upon my empty cappuccino cup. You know, that feeling where you think you’ve said too much and maybe regret it mixed with the feeling that maybe you haven’t said enough and the end result is always the worry that you’ve made a clown of yourself? Maybe it’s just me who has that feeling. But, maybe I am worrying for nothing.
Lifting my eyes from my empty cup in an attempt to look elsewhere, I caught a glimpse of Zoey’s expression, and it wasn’t at all what I envisioned. It wasn’t of disgust or feigned politeness but rather, it was of intrigue, happiness, and warmth. I didn’t dare to keep my eyes on her a second longer, so I started to stare outside the now dark winter night engulfed in street lights and the headlights of passing cars.
“So,” she began as she was making herself more comfortable, “one of your dreams is to become an author. Based on what you told me, it seems you are more focused on storytelling writing than poetry or any other genre of writing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but perhaps you need more experience and a more proper feedback. Correct me if I’m wrong, have you ever received any constructive feedback from your writings?”
As much as it annoyed me to hear her say that, it’s true. I have never received constructive feedback from my creative writings. Somewhere deep down inside was the goodness honest truth: I hated receiving nothing but praise. Praise doesn’t allow me to grow as a writer. The only people who’d ever read or listened to my stories were the middle school language arts teachers and a classmate or two, and my friend from 9th grade, and they did nothing but praise me and said what they liked, never about what they didn’t like. I’ve always wanted to tell them to stop praising me or to ask what I did wrong, but I was always afraid of confronting them, and I was afraid of becoming hurt or feeling as if I’m not cut out to be an author.
And then, there’s that other elephant in the room of my soul, and Zoey had it in her proverbial crosshairs.
“You wouldn’t happen to have one of your creative writings with you, do you?” she asked.
I knew it. I knew she was going to ask this.
“Uh, no. Sorry. It’s not on me today.” I said sheepishly.
Zoey subtly began to stare at me, as if she’s looking through me. No, it feels as if she’s looking INSIDE me. I consciously shifted myself in my chair in an attempt to throw her off. But something tells me that she isn’t an easy person to fool…
“You know, there are two things an author is never without. Wait, three things. A notebook, a pen, and an idea. And yet, here you are, no doubt with an idea or two in that imaginative mind of yours, and most likely a pen in your right pocket.”
She’s right. There was a pen in my right pocket. Then, maybe she knows how my mind works? Just who is this girl?
“Ah well, looks like we just have to change that, won’t we?” Zoey said with a bright smile. “It’s getting late. We should be heading to our homes. Wouldn’t want our families to worry about us.”
“You live around here, Zoey?”
“Yeah, about three blocks away. How about you?”
“About three or four blocks away.”
“Ah, so we’re practically neighbors!”
Zoey and I left the café and walked together until we reached the general vicinity of our neighborhood. Under a street light that shone upon us, we stopped on a sidewalk that lead to the left in one direction and continued straight as we had been walking. My house is a bit further of a straightforward walk, almost near the end of this neighborhood, often referred to as ‘the house down the hill’ by the neighbors. This is where we’ll part ways for the night.
“It was nice getting to know each other today, Taiyo.” Zoey gave a friendly smile.
“Yeah, likewise.” The edges of my lips curved slightly upward in an attempt to return the smile.
“I look forward to reading one of your writings soon.”
“Uh, yeah. Soon.”
Awkward silence fell between us again as I timidly tugged on the right sleeve of my jacket. Though, maybe it’s my fault for being short with my words and not knowing what else to say. I’m not used to things like this. It didn’t seem to matter to Zoey because her personality and presence always shone seemed to pierce through the silence.
“I forgot to mention this earlier, but the ‘Dead Writers’ Society’ meets once a week on Wednesdays. See you at the next meeting, and see you in business class on Friday if we don’t see each other around school tomorrow!”
You just can’t decide these things for me, you know?
We waved goodnight to each other and set off towards our homes.
I haven’t even decided if I want to join that club. She can’t go deciding these things for me.
How long are you going to delude yourself, Taiyo?
Ha! Who’s deluding who? Maybe it’s Zoey who’s under that delusion!
I don’t know. Seems like Zoey has things figured out.
We still don’t know much about her though.
All the more reason to join the club. Besides, you can’t stay hiding in that shell of yours forever. Pretty soon you’re going have to grow out of that reclusiveness.
There you go, deciding things for me too. How about you let me decide what’s best for me?
Alright, suit yourself. But remember, no matter how much you try to separate your thoughts and feelings, at the end of the day, it’s all you.
Some moment after that wonderful conversation, I arrived home. Tiredly, I fumbled around for the house key in my pocket and slipped it into the palm of my hand. I inserted the key, turned it to unlock and open the door, and stepped inside the house, into the kitchen. My sister, Nozomi, was in the kitchen, fixing her a plate of food. Seems like dinner is ready. Just in time.
“Welcome home, Taiyo,” she greeted with relaxed composure.
“You’re home a bit late. Did you screw?”
Oh great! She heard Kai shouting from this afternoon!
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